Mystery Solved

John Watson’s classical conditioning experiment is quite famous in the world of psychology.  First year university students everywhere hear about “Little Albert”, who was a baby around 9 months old who had not been exposed to rats before the experiment began.  Tests were done judging the child’s reaction to a number of various stimulus, including a white rat, and it was found that he regarded most of the stimulus’ with no fear.

Experimenters brought in a white rat and let Little Albert play with it.  The experiment began when the unconditioned stimulus (a loud noise which occurred when a steel bar was hit with a hammer behind Little Albert’s back) was found to produce the desired unconditioned response (fear).  Every time Little Albert would reach out to pet the white rat, experimenters would hit the steel bar with the hammer.  After repeated trials Little Albert – quite understandably – began to fear the white rabbit.

Unfortunately, Little Albert was removed from the experiment before Watson could de-condition him.  The child himself became lost to psychologists, and they were unable to follow up on how the experiment effected his life.  This mystery has puzzled psychologist’s for years, but finally, the mystery has been solved.

Douglas Merritte, a boy who died at the age of 6 due to a condition called hydrocephalus (an excess of fluids in the brain) fits the criteria for the child most commonly known as Little Albert.  Unfortunately we’ll never know what his life may have been like due to the experiment, but he most likely had other much worse problems to worry about.  Hall P. Beck, with a team of colleagues and students are the ones responsible for tracking down the information to solve this mystery.

The article I found this information in can be found in Monitor on Psychology in the January 2010 edition.

-Posted by Alyssa Pilkington

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